The 'it!' Bay of Islands Festival is the perfect pre-summer family celebration, writes Sarah Daniell
The kids are in the moshpit, swaying sligtly in the sun, mesmerised by Tiki Taane up on stage, doing his dazzling one-man band routine: singing, strumming, looping, and charming the crowd.
There's a group of women wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the message: "Keep Calm - It's a Hens' Party". The chief hen joins Taane on stage before presenting him with a pink T-shirt souvenir, which he puts on and poses for the camera.
We are in Paihia, for the Bay of Islands' "it!" festival, sitting under an umbrella, watching the kids watch Taane, the headline act.
We sip chilled local wine and contemplate dumplings. Or will that be oysters? Or both. Maybe oysters first, then dumplings.
Described as the "best little festival in Northland", it's all about chilling out and soaking up characteristic Northland manaakitanga. It's just large enough to be interesting (the food, the wine the musical lineup) and just small enough to not feel overwhelmed, or concerned that at any minute we might lose each other.
We are in a pocket of sunshine and goodness. And the food ... oysters, kina, char su bao, churros, bao, dumplings, fish sliders, beef sliders, orbs of joy donuts, green-lipped mussels, German bratwurst, Austrian cheese krainer sausages and French crepes.
There is big-eye tuna poke served in little recyclable containers from Charlotte's Kitchen. There's whitebait, scallops. To follow - or in whatever order takes your fancy - there's icecream, shaved ice and coffee. Yes please, to the Copthorne's pork and watercress pie plus kawakawa-rubbed chicken skewers.
We try a glass of the Ake Ake gewurztraminer pinot gris 2015. Ake Ake is a certified organic boutique vineyard in Kerikeri.
All of this is fine local produce is within a few seconds' walk of our table. It's as if the catering and entertainment fairies have descended upon a very big backyard and all the neighbours are invited.
The festival is in its ninth year and some have been coming since the very beginning. One couple met there, later got married and had a baby. They have come back with their friends from Auckland each year.
Here are some of the highlights.
You could try to get your fill by entering the oyster-shucking competition, or you could just buy a plateful. At Ben's Oysters, which are from Waikare Inlet, half a dozen succulent beauties will set you back $20.
Shucking oysters to a ticking clock and crowd pressure is way trickier than it might seem. My darling enters and, being a chef and an expert gatherer of kaimoana, I feel he might have the edge. But the competition is tough. He shucks six and comes in third. A local woman wins. Her hardcase family is sitting right by us, whooping and hollering. Shucking knife, gloves and lols provided.
If the dad joke fits ... We are in Pai-hia. I'm usually always up for a pie but not quite to the extent of the contestants at the pie-eating challenge. Luckily for us, there are plenty of enthusiastic contenders to provide entertainment.
I did not witness. I cannot testify. I am not too proud to admit I am not staunch enough to suck kina straight from the shell. But others were keen as kōura mustard.
... like you're at a music festival in a small Northland town where no one knows you. Except your children, who are cracking up at your "moves". Get down and get your groove on.
The real joy of the festival is that while there is an excellent buzz, we never have to queue and there is plenty of room. There is a 2500 limit, so it's very chilled. This year, the festival provides glasses, which are returned rather than recycled.
A good appetite, sunhats, dancing feet and a rug, then claim an area under the trees for your HQ and picnic area.
The 2018 headline act: Fly My Pretties, with Barnaby Weir, Ria Hll, Bailey Wiley, Iraia Whakamoe, Laughton Kora and others.
All day entertainment: Troy Kingi, Automatic 80s and JPG.
WHEN: Saturday, October 6, 11am-6pm.
WHERE: Paihia Village Green